Ozark, Mo. – Part 1

When residents of Ozark, Mo., voted for a clean-up project of a local dilapidated trailer park, they thought they were doing a good thing by ensuring that everyone in town would be living in a cleaner, safer environment.

But they never would have guessed that their own City Council would go one huge step farther by declaring the entire area “blighted,” and adding 47 more acres of middle class homes that encircled the trailer park area.[1] Blight designations carry with them the abusive power of eminent domain.

Jane Carpenter, a resident of one of the homes in the encircled area, refused to believe that her entire neighborhood of cute family homes could be considered “blight.”[2]

When she realized that the City Council was trying to establish a redevelopment district in the “blighted” area, she did not hesitate on protesting their actions.

“We asked the City to deal with [a] trailer park. We didn’t ask for an extreme makeover,” said Carpenter’s husband, Dennis Sparrow. “We were blindsided.”

As it turned out, the City was seeking to implement a redevelopment scheme consisting of retail, condos, loft apartments and private parks.[3] And in order to do so, the City did what local governments across the country do to obtain private property for private development from home and small business owners that don’t want to sell—they declared the area “blighted.”

Jane Carpenter engaged her neighborhood, organizing her fellow residents and getting the word out that this use of eminent domain was simply wrong. She held meetings and rallies at her own home and did as much research as she could to gather information to do battle against the City Council. All of these tactics are advocated by the Castle Coalition and appear in its popular Eminent Domain Abuse Survival Guide.

“I was already writing letters to the editor and holding neighborhood meetings,” said Carpenter. “And one night while I was doing research on the Internet, I found the Castle Coalition.” While much of what she was already doing to thwart the efforts of the greedy City Council were already outlined in the Survival Guide, the advice and materials she received from the Castle Coalition have proven invaluable to this day.

Soon, nearly every home in the area was donning a “Stop Eminent Domain Abuse” and a “Hands Off My Home” poster, courtesy of the Castle Coalition. “They were everywhere!” she exclaimed.

Carpenter says that by getting the word out and letting the entire community know about this terrible abuse of eminent domain, it stopped much of the City Council’s actions.

“We were interviewed by television, newspapers, everything,” she said. “That’s what really did it. In the end, we ended up bulldozing them.”

Just a few months ago, several homes in the proposed redevelopment area were “taken off the chopping block,” according to Carpenter. She truly believes that the residents would not have experienced the victory were it not for the staunch opposition they had raised throughout the public and in the media.

If there is any advice Carpenter can give for other property owners facing eminent domain abuse, it’s that, “[We] showed hope that you can do it. The best thing I learned from the Survival Guide was to stay with the media. That’s really what turned it around for us.”

Carpenter says that saving the first several homes is “just a start,” and that the battle is far from over. She, along with her hands-on neighbors, intends to keep on fighting the City Council until there is no chance for eminent domain abuse.

The Castle Coalition is confident that with the lessons Jane Carpenter and her neighbors have learned, they can certainly win in the court of public opinion. As they and countless other eminent domain abuse victors have learned, this is often the heart of the battle.

[1] Did Tang, “Design firm gets job of redeveloping blighted Ozark area,” Springfield News-Leader, August 26, 2005.

[2] Note: All quotations from this article are taken from a telephone interview with Jane Carpenter, conducted by Melanie Harmon, Institute for Justice, November 30, 2006.

[3] Did Tang, “Ozark residents fight redevelopment,” Springfield News-Leader, July 24, 2006.